Extinction Rebellion activists and climate activists in general are educated people who believe in science and yet they behave as fanatically, dogmatically and overzealously as 16th-century puritans. They dress up and then go around obstructing and annoying commuters and businesses; they scold our capitalist society for its sinful ways. All they want is for everyone to live like vegan monks for the rest of their lives and not have children. Is that really too much to ask?
Obviously, they have little hope of persuading most or even many people to adopt the lifestyle they shrilly assert is a moral imperative, but luckily for them, there are plenty of people in government willing to make laws to force everyone to – one way or another.
Leaving aside the question of whether a global climate catastrophe is only decades away or not, today’s climate change alarmists still labour under two crucial delusions. One, that capitalism is the primary driver of pollution and climate change. And two, that renewable energies alone can produce enough energy to serve the entire UK population.
Firstly, the economically freest and most capitalist countries have the cleanest environments and best environmental performance. In other words, the wealthier people get, the more they care about the environment, the more brainpower and resources they put into improving it. Secondly, there isn’t enough flat and open land in the UK for the necessarily gigantic wind and solar farms, nor enough wind or sun in general. A significant percentage of energy would still need to be produced by burning gas and coal to avoid shortages, rolling blackouts and regressing the common man’s standard of living back a century. No one in their right mind wants to live like that. And no true humanitarian would want the masses to live like that.
The problem today’s climate alarmists have is that, fundamentally, they lack faith in human freedom and faith in the forces that drive human progress. Those of us who understand that individual economic liberty has been and will be the driving force behind all human progress don’t panic when new complex social problems emerge. Generally, we have faith that human freedom in the form of free markets and ingenuity in the form of technological advancement will enable humanity to overcome these problems. This is a rational faith, a rational optimism.
People lacking this rational faith tend towards panic and despair. Where we see hope, they see nothing but a black void of hopelessness. And this is why they instinctively clamour for government action. To them, it seems like the only way to overcome new complex social problems to which there is currently no perceivable solution is to use the brute force of state power. They see no other way because they’re ignorant of how humanity has overcome problems in the past and because they wrongly believe capitalism is bad for people and the planet. Even in the face of the countless examples from history where using state power to socially engineer a better world has proved disastrous and even led to the horrors of mass starvation and murder, they still place all their faith in the coercive apparatus of the state because they see no alternatives.
The great irony is that the sort of people who join Extinction Rebellion are secular, scientific, civilised 21st-century citizens who find themselves “abjectly kneeling at the feet of that old-world god, force,” as Auberon Herbert once so eloquently phrased it.
Rational humanitarians understand that the earth is a resource that serves humanity. That’s the reality. It can’t be anything else. Extinction Rebellion activists think differently. They reject reality and replace it with their own. They see humanity as a thing that should serve the good of the planet. The earth isn’t a means to humanity’s ends, humanity is a means to the earth’s ends. But that’s just nutty.
Extinction Rebellion activists belong to a perverse type of humanitarian that exist today who possesses not only an anti-capitalist mindset but also an anti-human mindset. In their minds, human beings belong to a lower ethical category than animals and the earth – i.e. nature. This ethical view boils down to a kind of nihilistic self-loathing and leads to some morally repugnant conclusions – e.g. believing that having children today is the equivalent of causing a human genocide in the future.
It’s what leads humanitarians such as Sir David Attenborough to see humanity as a “plague on earth” and to believe in the centuries-old (and long-debunked) myth of overpopulation. Indeed, due to the latter conviction, he once described sending food to famine-stricken countries as “barmy” (British slang for crazy). If you claim to be a humanitarian and you find yourself arguing against sending aid to people suffering in famines, then that’s a sure sign that your moral compass needs to go back to the repair shop.
Loving nature doesn’t require us to loathe ourselves and humanity as a whole. Like many people, I think the Earth is beautiful. I too think the animal world is amazing, but unlike today’s perversely anti-human humanitarians, I don’t see humanity as a plague on earth and I don’t see myself as a bad thing for the planet. I see the earth as a miraculous garden planet, a resource for all of humanity. The fact is, and I’m sure Sir David Attenborough would begrudgingly agree with me on this, human beings are nature’s greatest miracle.
What separates human beings from animals is our ability to imagine new things, create new things and trade stuff (instead of fighting and killing each other for the stuff we need). This is what has enabled humans to solve the countless problems posed by existence and to cope with climate change for tens of thousands of years. It’s how humanity has, against the odds, avoided extinction. No civilisation in history has had anything like the problem-solving and productive powers ours has. Being by far the wealthiest and most technologically advanced humans in history is what will enable us to adapt to and overcome whatever problems may be caused by climate change in the future. And that’s why it’s rational to be optimistic about the future of our garden planet and humanity.
Capitalism isn’t just the greatest engine for wealth creation in human history, it’s also the greatest engine for the creation of technological solutions to pollution and environmental problems. We wouldn’t even have the industrial-scale renewable energy technologies that governments dream of powering the entire western world if it wasn’t for capitalism. Far from ruining the planet and being the cause of humanity’s downfall, global capitalism is the planet’s and humanity’s best hope. Without it, the 7.8 billion humans that make up humanity today really would be doomed.